I wrote this midrash early in rabbinical school -- it's somewhat rough and unpolished, but it has some interesting things in it and I've left it pretty much as it was. I was thinking about how we add the phrase "Elohay Rachel" (God of Rachel) to our prayers, yet we do not have as many stories about Rachel for that phrase to recall as we do for her husband Yaakov. This story just came to me one day. I'm not sure exactly all that it means. But I let my thoughts follow some Hebrew wordplay in last week's parasha and this week's. This midrash is a take on the incident of Yaakov's wrestling with a figure at night in Parashat Vayishlach:
25 Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. 26 When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he wrenched Jacob's hip at its socket, so that the socket of his hip was strained as he wrestled with him. 27 Then he said, "Let me go, for dawn is breaking." But he answered, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." 28 Said the other, "What is your name?" He replied, "Jacob." 29 Said he, "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed." 30 Jacob asked, "Pray tell me your name." But he said, "You must not ask my name!" And he took leave of him there. 31 So Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning, "I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved." 32
* * * * *
It became a topic of much conversation in Yaakov's household, this incident which he had kept to himself until the ominous meeting with Esav had passed. Yaakov told of wrestling with someone in the night, hearing his name, gaining a blessing. Did it happen, or did he dream it? Yaakov wasn't sure, but he felt that it had happened. Rachel knew otherwise -- she knew it must have been a dream.
She knew, because she had dreamt this dream before. She would dream it again.
In time, the discussion around the fire turned to the question: Who had Yaakov wrestled with? Those who told and retold the story said: vaye'avek ish imo -- a man wrestled with him. But who was this ish, this man?
This Rachel did not know. For though she had the same recurring dream, the ish was always different.
The first time Rachel had the dream was in Paddan-Aram. It was night, and she was alone. Then, a man. They wrestled -- vaye'avek ish imah. Or perhaps it was an embrace: vay'chabek. In the twisting and locking of hands, she heard a name, her name, and Yaakov's. She turned to see the face whose hands wrapped around her -- was it God? Then she felt the tap, and the blessing. When she awoke with the light of the dawn, she felt within her the pain, a new pain, a pain she had never known before -- but Rachel knew it was a pain toward new life, toward birth.
Rachel thought she understood the dream. She had asked her husband Yaakov to be God, the Progenitor and Source of Life. She had asked Yaakov to give her the blessing of life and more life, to open her womb as he had opened her life the day arrived from the land of Canaan. He had been angry with her -- "Can I be God?" -- they were estranged, and then one night -- it was that night, that same night -- the night of the dream, that night she conceived Yosef. On the night of the dream she conceived Yosef, "master of dreams."
Rachel dreamt the dream again the night her father Lavan overtook them, as they stole out of his home to make their way back to Canaan. It was night, and Rachel was alone, in her tent. A man, a white-haired man placed his arms around her -- vay'chabek ish otah. A warm, fatherly embrace -- or was he trying to strangle her -- vaye'avek? In the clasping and squeezing of hands, she heard her name, twice, in two overlapping voices -- one calm, soothing, warm and one cold, distant, angry. She tore loose a hand and reached out -- was this God? Then she felt the slap, the ambiguous blessing, and when she awoke at the break of dawn, she again felt the pain.
Again, Rachel thought she understood the dream. She uncovered the pack of her father's idols, hidden under her bed, and looked at them. Her father, Lavan. How many nights when she was but a girl did he tell her stories of her aunt, his sister Rivka, his beautiful sister Rivka, his virtuous and generous sister, who had left her home and her father's house? And Rachel had tried to grow to be Rivka, the mysterious ancestor she had never met. The day Yaakov, Rivka's son, arrived in Paddam-Aram, Rachel was Rivka, bringing him water. And the day Rachel cried out for a child, she was again Rivka.
Her father had given her one of the most precious treasures a parent gives a child: someone to live after, to live like. But he had not given her that other most precious treasure: a God.
These idols, these small gods, these trafim! They have made my father Lavan a white-haired man, a colorless old man as far back as I can remember. These trafim, who have torn the cloak of dignity from my father, and made him a petty man, a joke in the eyes of my husband and in my own eyes. What God did Father give me, to pass on to my children? I have only these trafim. My son Yosef, the dreamer, wakes up screaming, dreaming that these trafim are wild beasts, come to tear him apart and leave only his bloody cloak behind.
The pain was again the pain of women -- Rachel had not lied to her father, for she was again pregnant. But she did not want her godless father to see this second child.
Rachel dreamed the dream one final time, the night before she gave birth for the second and last time. It was night, in the hills of Canaan, and she was aone. She felt the pounding inside of her, those little hands and feet beating her from the inside. Vaye'avek ish imah -- a man, a little man, struggling with his mother. She thought she heard her name, muffled, speaking to her from inside. Was it God? She reached out for the dream embrace, but instead she felt the push, and the blessing. When the daylight awakened her, she felt the pain, the birth-pain, the death-pain.
As her soul departed, Rachel tried to understand the dreams, the single recurring dream. But the images fell over each other, clasping hands in struggle and embrace. Yaakov, Lavan, Ben-oni, God; husband, father, son, God; her name, Rachel, o tender little lamb -- was this all she had been? God protect my children, be WITH THEM, gather them wherever they disperse. So wept Rachel as she died -- and her cry is heard by God, generation after generation.